Ferries are an excellent way of exploring the Greek islands for the intrepid traveler who is flexible and doesn’t feel the need to stick to a meticulously planned schedule. The frequency and reliability of the Greek ferries will differ significantly between high-season and off-season, something that needs to be taken into consideration. The off-season, which is January to March, normally brings rough weather to the Aegean Sea and ferries can be forced to stay in for several days port to weather out storms.
The Greek ferry system is largely a hub-and-spoke system. The spokes radiates from Athens out to the main island groups. It is normally fairly easy to travel between the islands of a certain group, while ferries going from one group to another are less common, especially during off-season. During high-season, there number of connections from Athens to various islands are much greater than during the off-season, and the same is true for in-between island connections.
It is a good idea to have a map where the Greek island groups are clearly marked, because two islands can be located rather close to each other and still belong to two completely different island groups. The Western Cyclades (the islands of Serifos, Sifnos and Milos) are for instance located near the Central Cyclades (the islands of Naxos, Paros and Mykonos) but they are two different island groups and ferries from the Western to the Central Cyclades are few and far in between compared to the number of ferries available within each of the two island groups.
There are three ports in Athens: Piraeus, Rafina and Lavrio. The largest of them is the ancient Piraeus. All three have ferry traffic to the Greek islands, and which one that is ideal for you will depend on where you are going and when. You can find more information at Greek Travel Pages (gtp.gr) and OpenSeas (openseas.org). During recent years, new and faster ferries have begun to appear in the ports of Athens. They are a bit more expensive to use, but will on the other hand cut travel time considerably (about 50%).
Major ferry companies in the Greek archipelago
- Aegean Speed Lines (Cyclades)http://www.aegeanspeedlines.gr
- Agoudimos Lines (International and Greek Islands)http://www.agoudimos-lines.com
- ANEK Lines (International and Crete)http://www.anek.gr
- Blue Star Ferries (Italy-Greece and Aegean Islands)http://www.bluestarferries.com
- Euroseas (Saronic Gulf)http://www.euroseas.com
- Hellenic Seaways (Aegean Islands)http://www.hellenicseaways.gr
- Minoan Lines (Italy-Greece and Crete)http://www.minoan.gr
- SAOS Ferries (Aegean Islands and the northern mainland of Greece)http://www.saos.gr
- Superfast Ferries (Italy-Greece)http://www.superfast.com
- Ventouris Ferries (Italy-Greece)http://www.ventouris.gr
During high season, ferries going between really popular destinations are known to sell out, especially the ones that leave at convenient times. Around August 15 ferries sell out very quickly since this is a National Holiday and loads of people want to use the Greek ferry system.